Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bonaparte’s Russian Mustache

“The Struggle for Power – Russia in 1923,” by Valentina Vilkova, 1996

This is a work of original research on documents from what was then the newly-opened Soviet government archives in Russia.  Vilkova is a researcher at the Centre for Political and Economic History of Russia in Moscow.  In the excellent preface of this volume she analyzes original documents rarely made available within the country.  They show, according to her, that in this critical year, 1923, when Lenin was dying, a factional triumvirate (the ‘troika”) of central Soviet leaders – Kamenev, Zinoviev & Stalin – assumed power based on a campaign of distortions and slander against Trotsky and those who agreed in some respects with Trotsky.  This event some have called the assumption to power of a new bureaucracy within the party, based not on politics, but on a pure power play.    

This concentration of power in ‘the troika,’ and then ‘the seven,’ resulted in the eventual consolidation of power in ‘the one’ – Stalin, and the subsequent liquidation of nearly all of his confederates – Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin.  Subsequently the overwhelming majority of the Bolshevik Old Guard, and later, the overwhelming majority of the leadership of the Red Army were also executed.  In essence, over time the revolutionary generation was killed, and a new generation loyal to a ‘strongman’ like Stalin and the new bureaucracy was installed.

Trotsky later called this “Bonapartism.”

Vilkova collects here key documents tracking the developments in that fateful year 1923 – a few of which were only available previously from Trotsky and his supporters.  Lenin’s last testament – which indicated support for Trotsky, and opposition to Stalin – is not included here, but it plays a role in the background.  Vilkova notes that the Testament was distorted or suppressed at the time.  She also does not deal with documents related to the “Georgian question,” which revealed Stalin’s real attitude towards national minorities – not a pleasant one.

In her introduction, Vilkova makes some main points in her analysis of the texts.  The economic questions which plagued the USSR in 1923 were ignored in order to focus on attacking Trotsky.  The national question was also not clarified.  The troika agreed to Lenin (and Trotsky’s) ideas on the national question regarding federalism formally.  But when Lenin left political life after his stroke in March 1923, they backtracked, and reverted to a position that ‘local nationalism’ was the main enemy.  As part of this, they dissolved the Ukrainian government headed by Rakovsky, and put the Georgian leader M. Sultan-Galiev on trial.  

Lenin, being sick, was ignored or kept in the dark by the troika.  Stalin, getting wind through Kamenev that Lenin was going to advocate he be demoted from his post as “General Secretary” (an ostensibly ‘organizational’ position), put forward a resolution to postpone the 12th Congress to prevent this, to buy the troika some time.  It was postponed and it worked, as Lenin had a ‘stroke’ and was not able to intervene in the Congress, except with pre-prepared paper documents on the national question and the formation of the USSR. 

Vilkova notes that a new form of ‘intra-party’ discussion developed – one of rudeness, disloyalty and animosity.  Pyatakov, one of Trotsky’s allies, was called a Menshevik, which in those days was equated with being a White Guard.  In December 1923, the Central Committee removed Antonev-Ovseenko, Radek and Pyatakov for ‘factionalism.’  The ‘Statement of the 46” – mostly old-time party members in positions of authority in various parts of the economy who agreed with Trotsky’s concerns about the crashing economy – led them to being put on a black list.

To justify the new attitude, here is a choice quote from Kamenev:  “… that in order to support the dictatorship of the proletariat, it was necessary to support the Dictatorship of the Party, which was impossible without the dictatorship of the ‘old guard,’ which, in turn, was impossible without the leading role of the Central Committee as a leading institution.”

According to Vilkova, Lenin understood what was going on and, too late, proposed a different organizational structure for the Bolshevik Party.  He proposed doing it as part of a joint block with Trotsky.  It would be one much more controlled by the ranks of the Party, not a faction of the Central Committee, or a ‘charismatic’ leader, and which he hoped would prevent a split at the top.  Unfortunately, the ‘split’ happened in 1923, but took another 15 years to mature into the Moscow Show Trials of 1938.   

Other materials to read on this subject is the pamphlet, “On the Suppressed Testament of Lenin” by Leon Trotsky; and “Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in the Soviet Union,” by R Daniels. 

And I bought it at Mayday Books excellent used and cutout book section!
Red Frog
January 23, 2013

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